Saturday, November 10, 2007


Take this, all my elementary school teachers!
Beauty seems to be less important than fluidity and speed. [Vanderbilt University professor Steve] Graham's work, and others', has shown that from kindergarten through fourth grade, kids think and write at the same time. (Only later is mental composition divorced from the physical process of handwriting.)...."Measures of speed among elementary-school students are good predictors of the quality and quantity of their writing in middle school," says Stephen Peverly, a professor of psychology and education at Columbia University's Teachers College. "I don't care about legibility."

My handwriting may be utterly illegible, but it is fast, and I do write a lot.

I had a Spanish teacher in high school who was really fed up with not being able to read my work. One time, she scrawled a comment on one of my assignments that I couldn't read, and then wrote "OKAYYYY!?!?" next to it in big block letters. Needless to say, I panicked, having no idea what set her off. When I asked her about it, she just said "now you know how it feels!"

Nonetheless, I'm claiming the ultimate victory here. Via Kevin Drum, who holds his pen the same way I do.

Friday, November 09, 2007

There Are, In Fact, Options Off The Table

Here are a few things we won't do to get Iran to abandon its nuclear program.

On Civil Disobedience?

Steve Benen mocks a conservative writer for comparing torture to civil disobedience. But I think he's being unfair. Civil disobedience, I think, is a good way to conceptualize that ever-theoretically-present "ticking time bomb" scenario, where, we're told, we have to torture somebody. We can argue that the event is unlikely (it is), and that even in that situation, torture may not be the most effective strategy for getting the information we need. But granting there might be the possibility of such a convergence of events so that torture is necessary to save New York, I think civil disobedience is the right way to frame it.

Why? Because civil disobedience concedes that the conduct is illegal, and, more importantly, accepts that the actor will be punished for his conduct. In addition to maintaining the position of torture as a categorical moral wrong, it also provides a check against torture running wild: if people know that they will be prosecuted for torture, they won't do it unless they're prepared to accept the possibility of 15-20 years in prison -- which only likely will happen in grave cases of national security. Of course, that possibility is not an inevitability -- juries can nullify, or pardons can be issued. But the point is, the person has to be willing to face the judgment of society after the act. This is the precise opposite of the way the Bush administration has cast its torture policies -- shielded from public accountability or the arm of the law.

While the conservative in question (Chuck Colson) seems to overstate the nobility of torture in the hypothetical case (a necessary evil remains evil), civil disobedience is, I think, a beneficial framework for the issue insofar as it cuts off -- indeed, inverts -- the argument that we need to provide a legal shield for torturers. If George W. Bush really thinks we need to torture X accused al-Qaeda terrorist, then he should be willing to face the consequences of that act.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Wrong Move, Huckabee

The Club for Growth, an arch-conservative interest group that prizes tax cuts over all else, are not fans of Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. The CfG has never been shy about intervening in Republican primaries (it bankrolled then-Rep. Pat Toomey's challenge to Senator Arlen Specter in 2004 -- Toomey now leads the group), and views its mission as insuring that nobody in the GOP breaks from the Party's supply-side-at-all-cost ideology. And, long before he broke through as a serious candidate, they've been dogging Huckabee, who they see as insufficiently committed to death-by-tax-cut.

Huckabee's response, however, may not serve him that well:
Not surprisingly, Huckabee has been far less sanguine about the Club's attack on his record. Campaign manager Chip Saltsman said that the Club's enmity toward Huckabee appears to be the result of a "personal vendetta," adding: "Most people are starting to figure that out. (Toomey, for what it's worth, insists that there is nothing personal about the attacks.)

As for the allegations made by the Club For Growth, Saltsman said that "we've made our record on tax pretty clear." Saltsman argued that because Democrats enjoyed strong majorities in the state legislature during Huckabee's time as governor, he struggled to rein in their approach to taxes and spending. "What the Club for Growth is banking on is people not wanting to do the research," said Saltsman.

Two problems. First, defending yourself in front of Republicans by saying that you couldn't resist the Democratic swarm in your southern state is not a good way to endear you to the base. I know that Arkansas is actually much more Democratic-friendly than its reputation and region would suggest (indeed, both its Senators, its current Governor, and three of its four Congressional Representatives are Democrats), but most people aren't going to read that deep. Which brings me to problem number two: "banking on people not wanting to do the research" is actually a reasonably sound political strategy. Depending on voters to become informed is a sure-fire way to get crunched. If Huckabee doesn't learn that, he's going to run into serious problems as he struggles towards electoral viability.

Oh My God, It's Real Life Globo Gym!

You think I'm kidding.

Pardons for Bush

Getting ready for bed last night, I was hit with a wonderful idea for the next Democratic President. At least, I think it's a wonderful idea. Tell me what you think.

On his first day in office, the new Democratic President should pardon George W. Bush.

I know, it galls me too. The number of crimes this administration is implicated in boggles the mind, and it is infuriating that they will likely go unpunished. But let's be serious here -- there is a precisely 0% chance that President Bush, or any top member of the Bush administration, will ever be prosecuted for anything. It would look partisan, it would look retaliatory, and it would end up being awful politics.

So why a pardon? Simple: you don't pardon people who haven't done anything wrong. The very act of pardoning Bush establishes him as someone who needed a pardon. Pardons damage the reputation of their recipients -- it's not like Nixon's pardon convinced Americans that he really just got a bad rap (even just-defeated Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher's spate of pardons, which he cast as protecting the targets from illegitimate prosecution, made both him and them look much worse than they were before). Meanwhile, President Obama the Democratic President looks magnanimous, moving the country forward rather than focusing on rehashing the malfeasance of the past. And of course, removing the specter of criminal prosecution from President Bush, under a variety of precedents, makes it easier to compel him to testify about the events in question, if that ever becomes necessary.

It is important to establish Bush's historical legacy as someone who ran one of the most corrupt, extra-legal administrations in the history of the nation. Prosecution would be the most direct route, but that's not going to happen. Counter-intuitive as it is, issuing a pardon would permanently enshrine Bush in that rarefied class of Presidents who needed a pardon -- and that would likely secure his legacy almost as well as (politically contested) indictment.


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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

You Can't Have It All

Though I think this Duck of Minerva post on "certifying idealism" comes down a little hard, this paragraph is very wise and deserves repeating:
[T]he conjoining of "certifying" and "idealism" troubles my Weberian sensibilities to no end. If we are doing anything at all for our students -- and this applies broadly to everyone in the academy, I think, but perhaps especially to those of us who teach about politics -- we ought to be pressing them to deal with the conflicts between their ideals and the means of implementing those ideals. We should also be pressing them to deal with the fact that not all idealistic value-commitments point in the same direction, that not all normatively desirable ends can be accomplished all at once, and that in the end not all ideals can be rationally reconciled -- in other words, our students need to be appraised of the failure of the Enlightenment project of bringing all values together under the common head of Reason, and of the consequent need for hard and perhaps un-rationalizable choices and commitments.

Not everything that falls under the metric of "good" can be accomplished at the same time. Trying to do that usually leads to more harm than good, either because it engenders quiescence in people who refuse to do anything unless it can be done perfectly (which means nothing will ever happen), or because it encourages people to jettison values that really are important wholesale because they see them as barriers to the "ultimate" project (be it fostering the revolution, increasing liberty, reducing the size of government, securing the nation, or what have you). It is, of course, true that the opposite is true as well: people can be too quick to compromise and never take a stand to demand more than the bare minimum, and political movements can spin their wheels if they get stuck in an endless cycle of aimless, small-scale demands without any sort of larger vision of what they want to accomplish. But this interplay merely reinforces the point: mediating between those poles is tough, it will inevitably resist formula, and the best strategy is not a naive belief that one can be a messianic figure for political change, but rather acquiring the social and political agility necessary to make the world a better place.

Left Behind Roundup

As usual, I'm too far behind to ever catch up with all the posts I wished to blog on. It's for exciting reasons, however: I'm giving a presentation summarizing my summer research before the Carleton community -- defined in this case as my immediate circle of friends, plus a few random people who heard of the event through word of mouth. I'm really looking forward to it, but it is a bit of a stress producer, and that cuts into my blogging. So, rather than let them disappear under the sands of time forever (because I am the sole barrier to that awful fate), you get a round-up.


Ezra Klein urges the mainstream media to stop avoiding the "L" word when politicians utter blatantly, er, "questionable" (to quote the WaPo) remarks.

Unfortunately, Ezra loses points for titling this post "There's A New Musharraf In Town."

Speaking of Pakistan, this Hilzoy post is absolutely must-read. Short story -- Islamist parties aren't that popular in Pakistan, and don't have a real shot at winning free elections.

Also at Obsidian Wings: Don't be a Playa Liberal Hatuh

More and more information is coming out about America's extraordinary rendition program. It's beyond clear now: yes, America does torture.

One of the saddest things I've ever read was a TNR article essentially arguing that every human rights abuse we condemn in Abu Gharib, we practice openly in Texas jails. Apparently, abusive treatment has now extended to detained immigrants. And of course, it's the whistleblower who is being punished.

Sex is the answer to the immigration problem. For a more serious take on the story in question, see Amp.

Mark Olson is lucky I follow links and know he doesn't support torture, because otherwise I'd have a field day with this post (particularly #3). I will briefly note that there is such thing as a secular, non-consequentialist argument. I will also note that, while past, say, 1950, there was not a single mainstream liberal who could be accurately described as "cozying [himself] up to the notion of torture and the defense of the regime of the gulag," whereas today the Republican Party as an institution is, at the very least, tolerant of America itself torturing people, and a great many mainstream conservative figures are far more explicitly in favor of it.


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Give Him More Rope

So I didn't get my one wish for election night. And, in fact, CNN is reporting that now-reelected Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour could be on the Republican Vice Presidential short-list.

At first, my reaction was disgust. I find it viscerally offensive that Barbour could be elected to anything but "model prisoner", much less Governor or Vice President. But, upon reflection, this might be a good thing. Barbour has a massive amount of skeletons in his closet. He just screams slime (TNR had a great article on him that, unfortunately, I can no longer find -- but here is some info from The Washington Note). Putting him on a ticket would shout to the heavens: "K Street Corruption is Back!", and if Democrats can't exploit that come 2008, they don't deserve to win.

I mean, can you imagine a Giuliani/Barbour ticket? I'm squealing just thinking about it. And it isn't unreasonable either -- Giuliani needs to shore himself up in the south, and Barbour is about a south as you can get without resurrecting Strom Thurmond. But together, that's the sort of ticket that could give Nixon/Agnew a run for its money.


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No Money? No Problem!

Barack Obama is offering his support to the striking writer's guild. The members are pleased, but also confused:
WGA officials were overjoyed with the headline-making gift — even if unsure as to why Obama did what he did. “We don’t even have a PAC, so why he did it is still a question. But we’re delighted,” says Jody Frisch, who shuttles between Los Angeles and Washington as the Guild’s director of policy and government affairs.

That makes me sad, actually. Are we really at that stage where we can't even conceptualize a major politician aiding a cause he believes in absent a big ol' check in his wallet? I guess that's the truth of money in politics, but it's not a good commentary.

On the other hand, it does speak well of Obama, that his rhetoric of moving past the politics of dollar bills is more than just talk. So good for him.


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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Boxing Blogging: Contender Finale

Oh man. Oh man. This is everything the ESPN executives could have dreamed of and more. The Contender gold medal match pitting Jaidon Codrington against Cameroon native Sakio Bika really stamped itself as a fight of the year candidate. These two guys went to war. It was truly something to see. And combined with a solid if unspectacular undercard, it made for two hours of brilliant programming to close out the finest season yet of The Contender.

David Banks (15-3-1, 2 KOs) MD6 Donny McCreary (23-7-2, 13 KOs)

I really don't know what to think about Banks. He has no power, is completely ineffective on the inside, and just doesn't seem to have the type of fighting mentality to really compete at anything approaching the upper echelons. On the other hand, he is without a doubt a skilled counter-puncher, and his losses aren't nobodies: his first defeat was to highly skilled contender Eromosele Albert, then after that a close decision to Peter Manfredo (in Manfredo's hometown), and finally a disputed split decision to start The Contender against Paul Smith.

But regardless of where he's going career-wise, if he's heading anywhere aside from retirement he had to beat McCreary, who really is just a journeyman at this point. Coming into the bout Banks had lost two straight, neither of which he was particularly happy about, and I would not be surprised if he would have hanged it up entirely out of frustration if he hadn't pulled this one out. To be honest, I was surprised by the one judge who had it a draw. I had it 59-55 Banks. Teddy had it 59-56, with one round even. I guess I can see that, as both fighters had moments in the round in question, and so I suppose it's reasonable that a judge might have given it to McCreary. But I really would have to labor to find a third round Banks didn't win.

Anyway, Banks deserved this decision, and looked much as he always does to me: skilled, slick, but not particularly interesting (or interested).

Sam Soliman (35-10, 13 KOs) UD6 Wayne Johnson (17-3, 9 KOs)

Johnson, who was bouncing back from a brutal first round destruction by Jaidon Codrington in the semifinals, was an opponent tailor-made for Soliman. His inexperience showed, as he was totally baffled and befuddled by the chaotic, unorthodox Australian. Soliman looked good in this fight. Folks questioned whether the near-34 year old was done after his loss to Sakio Bika. Between Bika's performance in the finals, and Soliman's display here, I think that's premature to say the least. Johnson definitely needs a bit more seasoning -- but Soliman is a tough (and unique) match-up for anybody.

Sakio Bika (25-3-2, 15 KOs) TKO8 Jaidon Codrington (18-2, 14 KOs)

Wow. Just, wow. This was just a brilliant fight. Both men throwing absolute bombs, all night long, showing tremendous heart. There was not a dull moment in the entire bout, and frankly, I'm impressed it lasted as long as it did. Bika won tonight purely off experience: he knew what he had to do to gain the victory. Codrington, who is still only 23, couldn't figure out a way to gain the upper hand and began to falter and finally crack against the African's sustained assault.

But goodness, what a fight it was while it lasted. Bika dropped Codrington early in the first round (and, it's worth noting, continued to pound him while he was down -- I thought a point should have been taken for that) -- bringing to mind Codrington's only loss up to this fight: an 18-second demolition at the hands of Allan Green. But Codrington got back up and, as Bika tried to finish him off, Codrington landed a vicious left hook inside Bika's looping shots to score a knockdown of his own. And Bika, who has never been stopped and is just an all-around tough customer, was badly hurt. By the end of round one, I had moments where I thought either fighter might garner a stoppage. It was that wild.

As the fight progressed, there were no more knockdowns, but many more crunching shots from both men. But in every round, it seemed Bika was coming of just a little better. He was backing Codrington up, and the latter was definitely showing more effects from the punches he had accumulated. But Codrington never stopped throwing himself, and always looked as if he could land another shot like the one in the first round that would have been an instant knockout of many fine boxers.

Alas, it was not to be. Bika simply broke Codrington down. He never stopped coming, and Codrington finally wilted under the sustained pressure of a man who would not go away. Incidentally, folks questioned Codrington's chin after the Green fight. I think the way Jaidon responded to the sustained assault he took from Bika shows he can take a punch. However, I do think there is a serious question about his defense. Bika, who throws wide, looping shots, was essentially landing at will, and when you're facing someone as strong as Bika, you can't do that and expect to survive 10 rounds, much less pull out a decision. I think Codrington is comfortable with his power and normally is quite glad to just trade bombs with his opponents. But faced with someone who could match him blow-for-blow, he didn't have a Plan B (in this, he reminds me of Edison Miranda against Kelly Pavlik). This is a problem. But it's the type of problem that can be fixed with more experience, and I still think that "The Don" has a bright future ahead of him.

As for Bika, I think he really proved something tonight. Say what you will about him: he's raw, he's crude, he throws wide, he lacks technique. I say, he can fight. He's relentless, he's got a granite chin, he's strong, and he doesn't stop throwing. Bika's three losses are all against elite fighters -- Sam Soliman (which he avenged in this tournament), Lucien Bute, and king of the Super Middleweight division (and pound-for-pound elite) Joe Calzaghe. He deserves every cent of the $750,000 payday he just earned, and I'm excited to see him in more fights down the line. He'd be a great person to match up against one of those middleweights who are looking to transition to 168 pounds.


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Be Bold

Keeping on the theme of faux boldness, I give you (via The FRC) Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan of Bakersfield, California, who just voted to install displays including "In God We Trust," as well as historic documents like the Declaration of Independence and Constitution across the school district.
It's not political, it's not religious. It's patriotism. We are a faith-based people for the most part," she said. "Sometimes you have to go with the majority."

You tell 'em!

I'm reminded, as I so often am, of Futurama -- specifically, this passage from Earth President McNeil:
Ladies and gentlemen, our course is clear. The time has come to knuckle under. To get down on all fours and really lick boot. Give our alien masters whatever they want!

Nothing like speaking truth to power.


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That's a Sacrifice I'm Willing To Make

I don't razz on Andrew Sullivan as much as some of my fellow liberals, but this post is ridiculous. Lamenting the lack of inclusion for transgendered persons in the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), Sullivan nonetheless shows his willingness to compromise for the sake of moving the bill forward. This would be more impressive if Sullivan himself was transgendered. As it stands, he's boldly willing to sacrifice the rights of others to get more for himself.

There is a case to be made that we should push through ENDA, even in its imperfect form, because its the best we can get now. But doing that isn't a "compromise" in any meaningful sense by Sullivan -- he's getting his end of the bargain. It's the people who are being left behind that ultimately can claim moral superiority if they are willing to hold off on their own claims for the sake of their peers.


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If Wishes Were Horses

It's election day today! It's an off year, so there's not too much going on. But even in 2007, I have a wish list. Some of them, like Governor Ernie Fletcher (R-KY) being unceremoniously dumped out of office, will almost certainly come true. Others, like Democrats taking back the state legislature in Virginia, are more of a reach.

But the one thing I really, really want this election day, just isn't going to happen. But nonetheless, I make my plea:

God, if you're out there, please let the unspeakably despicable Governor Haley Barbour (R-MS) lose his re-election race.

Oh, and end world hunger. If you have time.




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Whitehouse Proposes Anti-Caging Bill

A big shout-out to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) for introducing an "anti-caging" law in the Senate.
The Caging Prohibition Act would prohibit challenges to a person’s eligibility to register to vote, or cast a vote, based solely on returned mail or a caging list. The bill would also mandate that anyone who challenges the right of another citizen to vote must set forth the specific grounds for their alleged ineligibility, under penalty of perjury.

While I have no idea how it got the name, "caging" has been one of the key voter suppression tactics used by the GOP over the past several election cycles. Even some Republicans have taken a stand against this practice, and while I salute them for it, its well since time the arm of the law was enlisted to back them up when they take on their own party.


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Judge Kavanaugh on the Academy

Hurray, we're useful!


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Monday, November 05, 2007

The Mayor of Hazelton

Lou Barletta, mayor of Hazelton, Pennsylvania, was launched onto the political map by ramming through some of the most draconian anti-immigrant policies during his tenure. Here, via the Washington Post, are some of the highlights (this article, by the way, is from last August):
Last month, in a raucous meeting, the mayor and City Council passed the Illegal Immigration Relief Act. (Barletta wore a bulletproof vest because, he says, Hazleton is menaced by a surge in crime committed by illegal immigrants.) The act imposes a $1,000-per-day fine on any landlord who rents to an illegal immigrant, and it revokes for five years the business license of any employer who hires one.

The act also declares English to be the city's official language. Employees are forbidden to translate documents into another language without official authorization.

But as the law began to get publicized, Barletta began to have some regrets. It appeared that, in actuality, immigrants of all stripes were important members of the Hazelton community. Even before the law came into effect, Barletta ruefully reported, "some Mexican restaurants say business is off 75 percent" as the town's Latino population packed up.

Haha, I kid! Not about the downturn from Mexican restaurants. That actually happened. I'm kidding that Barletta was rueful about it. Nope -- that was the example he cited to prove the law was working!
The law doesn't take effect for another month. But the Republican mayor already sees progress. "I see illegal immigrants picking up and leaving -- some Mexican restaurants say business is off 75 percent," Barletta says. "The message is out there."

Anyway, Reason Magazine's Hit & Run blog reports that Barletta is mulling a run for Congress in Pennsylvania's 11th District against Democratic incumbent Paul Kanjorski. It would be a reprise of their 2002 contest, which Kanjorski won by 14 points.

It's testament to the degree of anti-immigrant psychosis that has infected so much of American politics that a man who brags about driving businesses out of his own town is expected to be more competitive this time around than he was in 2002 -- a good year for Republicans overall.


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You Throw Your Cards Down First

Ann and Jessica of Feministing issue an ultimatum to male politicians: Stop playing the gender card already!

It's tongue-in-cheek, but quite good. See my further thoughts on the topic here.


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Iowa Immigrants

Mitt Romney in Marshalltown, Iowa: "you probably don't have a lot of immigrants legally." Iowa in general, and Marshalltown in particular, has a surging Latino population -- 12.5% in the 2000 census and growing for the meatpacking town.

I'd like to think this would come back to bite Mr. Romney, but I'm leaning towards the belief that there is very few anti-immigrant sentiments that will ever cause a candidate to be called to the mat by the media (let alone his fellow Republicans, who are beyond hope it seems).



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Live from New York!

Barack Obama, have my babies!

UPDATE: K-Lo thinks this signals the end of Obama's "15 minutes as a serious contender for the presidency." K-Lo, of course, thought Rick Santorum was going all the way in Pennsylvania, so we'll take her future political prognostications with a grain of salt.

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Man Card

Garance Franke-Ruta is starting a visual archive of political advertisements that "play the gender card" to appeal to male voters, starting with this McCain mail piece. The project arose after a brief media flurry over whether Hillary Clinton was "playing the gender card" in trying to appeal to female voters. The coverage took on a vague sneering tone, as if this was some sort of distasteful identity politics that she should be tsk'd at for. Pushing back, some astute bloggers have noted that politicians play this game appealing to male voters all the time. Cf. 2004, sayeth Matt Yglesias:
As long as we're all worried about Hillary Clinton and the 'gender card' we do realize that about 75 percent of the 2004 race between John "I've killed people" Kerry and George "no you're a windsurfing frenchman" Bush was a series of efforts to play the gender card, right?

It's actually stunning how much of thr erstwhile foreign policy debate is primarily an argument about the size of the debaters' dicks.

A bit overwrought, but, actually, not really.

Perhaps what makes this all the more crazy is that, as Ezra Klein noted, the comments Clinton made that provoked this "feeding frenzy" were really quite mild -- just a remark to a gathering of Wellesley alumni that the all-women school really helped prepare her for the "all-boys club" of politics. But, switching back to GFR, she raises the point that Clinton's statement can be seen as part of the "secondary conversation" women have with each other in private -- the one they are actively discouraged from articulating in public circles, lest they damage their professional careers.

So really, there are two lanes of response to this controversy. The first is that Clinton isn't playing the gender card at all, and her critics are just looking to draw blood at any opportunity. The second is that she is playing the gender card, but no more explicitly or distastefully than male candidates do for their fellow men in every race.

While normally I'd segue here into how appeals to men are "invisible" because they are the dominant caste in the American political sphere, in a sense, that doesn't really apply here, the reason being that there is at least a partial awareness among the political class that there are, in fact, specific appeals to men qua men during elections (the way we don't recognize it for, say, Whites). From union men to "NASCAR dads", there are plenty of male blocs that get appealed to. Nonetheless, the Clinton controversy has illustrated the limits to this insight -- even though we all know that male politicians play the "man card" all the time, we still are acting shocked when a female politician tries to swing it for women. That's bogus, but as Atrios says, "this conversation just serves to reinforce the obvious state of things in this country: white males are the most aggressive practitioners of so-called "identity politics" and always have been."

See also: Digby, Shakesville, Matt Stoller


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